Bible Answer

Can a worship leader be a woman?

Does a worship leader hold enough authority in a church that a woman shouldn't be in that position?

The word of God teaches that the Lord desired that men have authority over women in marriage, and in the church. The Lord’s desire was reflected in the order of Creation, as Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Timothy 2:

1Cor. 11:3 But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.
1Cor. 11:4 Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head.
1Cor. 11:5 But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved.
1Cor. 11:6 For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head.
1Cor. 11:7 For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.
1Cor. 11:8 For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man;
1Cor. 11:9 for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake.
1Tim. 2:11 A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness.
1Tim. 2:12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.
1Tim. 2:13 For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve.
1Tim. 2:14 And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.

The principle we find in Scripture is this: a woman may not exercise spiritual authority over a man, nor teach men the Bible (since this is a key expression of spiritual authority). When applying this truth in any specific situation, we must ask the question will the woman be called to teach a man Scripture or will she exercise spiritual authority over a man? 

In the case of teaching, the key concern is will she have authority to decide the proper interpretation or meaning of the text for a man? If so, she may not hold this position. On the other hand, if she is merely called to relate or repeat the teaching of male elders without elaborating on their interpretation, then she would be a messenger of the word, not a teacher, and therefore she could be permitted to serve in this way (though this “splitting of hairs” is a slippery slope and generally not good practice). 

Secondly, we must ask will she exercise spiritual authority over the man?  Spiritual authority involves activities like teaching Scripture, preaching (or exhorting) believers to obey the word of God, applying corrective action in cases of disobedience, delegating authority to other believers, etc. If a specific function in the church includes such expressions of authority over men, then a woman may not hold that position. 

On the other hand, if a leadership role in the church is limited to non-spiritual forms of authority (e.g., human resources director, legal counsel, CPA, etc.), then a woman may hold authority over men in that function no different than in any other business context. In the Bible we find descriptions of godly women running households and businesses that likely employed men, and this was not a sin (e.g., Proverbs 31). Nevertheless, in such cases care must be taken to ensure that the woman's authority remains limited to her specific functional area and doesn’t spill over into areas of spiritual authority.

Turning to the position of a worship leader, there is no easy answer. Obviously, the “safe” course would be to only select men as worship leaders, especially if the worship leader position includes an expectation of teaching or exercising spiritual authority over the worship team or the congregation (e.g., exhorting them to respond properly in worship, teaching the theology of worship, correcting those in the worship team or congregation who refuse to obey Scripture, etc.).

On the other hand, a woman could conceivably hold the position of worship leader if the role did not include such expectations. Theoretically, a woman could serve as the worship leader if the role was limited to determining the musical program for each week’s service, training and directing the musicians in their craft during rehearsals, and running the worship service from a place at the rear of the platform, while a man or a group of musicians lead the congregation in worship. Such an arrangement would avoid placing the woman in a position of spiritual authority over the team or the congregation.

In the end, the answer to this question turns on the nature of the responsibilities assigned to the worship leader role in your church . We recommend elders pray and discuss the question carefully, considering all the activities of a worship leader in their particular church while seeking to obey the true intent of Paul’s teaching. The Church must embrace the concept of headship, not merely seek to comply in a technical sense.